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Love and Terror, Heroes and Villains November 18, 2015

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Puff Pastry- is this my first actual recipe posted here? November 6, 2015

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OK maybe its not the first recipe, but it’s the first one I wouldn’t tinker with if I do it again.

I made an enormous batch of Pastelitos de Guayaba for my son last night.  He’s doing a presentation on Cuba for school and wanted to offer some kind of food from Cuba and my wife suggested guava puff pastry.  I’ve never made that before so I made a trial batch and then after learning some things from experience and from asking my mom, I did the final product.  I made two batches the second time around.  It turned out beautifully and filled two full sized cookie sheets.

The trial batch wasn’t neat.  The oven was not hot enough and the pastry not cold enough, I learned from my mom.  There were a wide range of recipes available, with temperatures ranging from 350 to 400 F.  So in making the first tray at 350 F, it didn’t puff right, the butter was melted everywhere, not properly trapped and distributed inside the pastry.  I handled that, and then turned up the oven to 400 F to finish the baking process and it puffed OK.  In the end it wasn’t terrible, but the second two trays made me very happy.

The recipe for one tray is:

5C Bread Flour
2T Salt
2C Water
1 Lb Unsalted Butter

1 package of guava paste – the other recipes said guava jelly could be used, but it’s not firm enough to hold up under baking.  14 oz was enough.

Simple syrup:  3/4C water, 1/2C Sugar, boiled for about a minute while stirring until the sugar dissolved and cooled

Egg Wash: one egg, 1T or less of water, stirred thoroughly with a fork.  I beat mine like I would a scrambled egg.

For the pastry:

Mix bread flour and salt.  Add water and stir.  The recipes I read called for a mixer with a dough hook but I only have meat hooks (my hands) and a well-used wooden spoon.  The dough is done when it forms a nice ball.  I kneaded it just enough to get all the flour mixed in.

Flatten the butter as best you can, to about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thickness, and make an envelope of dough around the butter.  Roll this out to 1/2″ and fold into thirds.  Chill 10 minutes.  Recipes I read said to repeat two times.  I ended up folding mine four times, chilling in between each folding.  I used extra bread flour to allow the dough to continue to be workable.  I also used a marble rolling pin because it’s colder, to keep the butter from softening too much.  Each time you fold, you should get a better rectangle.  I improved with practice

On the last roll-out, after I chilled the dough I rolled it thinner, maybe 1/4″, to make two sheets of pastry, each the size of my cookie sheet.  I divided the now-enormous sheet of rolled out dough and sliced it with a pizza cutter to make my two sheets.

I sliced the guava paste pretty thinly and covered the first sheet evenly with the pieces.  I cut the 14 oz block into quarters and then each quarter into 12 slices.  I used a paintbrush with water on the exposed pastry, and placed the other sheet of pastry on top.  And chilled the whole thing about 20 minutes.  Some recipes add cream cheese, I did not but that would be awesome.  You could also put a pinhole over each piece of guava paste.  I didn’t and it was fine.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees while the pastries are chilling.  When the oven is hot and the pastry is very cold, brush with the egg wash enough to coat, and bake 25 minutes.  At 25 minutes, pull the pastry carefully out of the oven and brush with the sugar syrup, enough to coat.  Don’t worry about the puff, it’s supposed to do that.  I have a lot of syrup left over, and I had some egg left over after making both trays.  Bake an additional 5 minutes to evaporate the water and leave behind the sugar coating, which makes a glaze and adds an additional sweet crispness.  I waited overnight, some recommend waiting at least 15 minutes for cooling, to slice the pastry.  My son needed 100 servings, and I got 96, slicing the two trays into rows of six by eight seemed practical.  The last four servings came from the first batch, which turned out OK, just not as pretty and probably not as buttery and flaky.  I used a meat cleaver so to not scratch my cookie trays.  Just trust me on that, a knife scratches, a cleaver (probably) won’t, or won’t scratch as badly.  The recipes I read that had cream cheese showed making individual pockets, with a pinhole on top of each one to vent, but I didn’t do that.  I just cut it where it needed cutting after baking the whole thing, and it was fine.  If I had discrete bundled cream cheese topped with guava, I might have done the pocket technique to keep the pockets from separating too much.

MMMMM, sweet success.  I normally don’t exactly follow instructions on a lot of recipes, throwing whatever I need into them until it looks right, but this, I’d do exactly the same every time.  Mom says a recipe is a “good place to start.”  And then she tinkers with whatever.  But the cold pastry dough, the hot oven, all worked perfectly, and the pastry puffed and glazed beautifully.  I might not use a whole recipe just for family of 4, but for 48 people this amount was just right. Next time, maybe just a half-batch…

I Want My Flying Car October 21, 2015

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Today is “Back To The Future Day,” and I still want my flying car.  The hoverboards and flat screen tvs are nice though, if I could afford one.

Sweet Addiction May 15, 2015

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I always see brilliant work by Paul F. Lenzi, found on http://poesypluspolemics.wordpress.com/ and I just have to say this one is a personal favorite. He is one of the writers who writes like I wish I could write. The artwork he selected is also beautiful, done by Mark Kazav. And this subject matter is of course a personal favorite also. I enjoyed the poem one sip at a time.

Poesy plus Polemics

"Coffee" Painting by Mark Kazav From artid.com “Coffee”
Painting by Mark Kazav
From artid.com

luxurious liquid

of mornings

a smooth silky brown

deep as pools of

Italian-born eyes

rich aromas of lush

equatorial mountains

a taste that transmits

to the brain

a warm wakening

opens receptors

to savory words

of an organic muse

here is stimulus

eagerly drawn

from the pleasure of

daily familiar routine

creativity found

in each sip

ingenuity plumbed

from each swallow

a gentle dependency

bearing the traits

of a vice that

by my lights

conforms to a virtue

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That Was Weird April 21, 2015

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OK that was really a weird, I’d say existential, experience.  For lunch today I brought along a yogurt.  It was raspberry flavored, my second favorite but black cherry was not there in my fridge this morning.  I shook the yogurt, just out of habit since the fruit and food coloring are pretty well distributed in this brand.

When I opened the yogurt, I just opened a little bit since the yogurt always seems to pop out of the opening right when I start removing the foil.  This time, a little bit of yogurt came out, but no bubble.  At first.  I looked and was amused, thinking the red of the raspberry resembled a tongue.

I pulled further on the tab.  Then the yogurt made a little noise as the inevitable air bubble popped.  And yogurt went out of the opening with the escaping air.

And then I realized:

My raspberry yogurt just gave me a “raspberry.”


Nothing-ism April 1, 2015

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Well, I’ve reached a breaking point in life.  After these years of mindlessly following the rest of the sheep I’ve decided to become a nothing-ist.  That’s right, folks.  No more will I bother to wrestle with faith and truth and lies and love and hate and emotion and apathy.  They’re only constructs created by other people to keep me under their control, and all I care about from now on is myself.  I will respect no more constraints.

All those prayers I thought were actually answered must have just been random coincidences, wishes granted by a very random cosmos.  Nothing is important but me.  Nothing matters but me, no one else matters but me, and everything else is nothing. Life is hard but it’s hard for everyone whether they’re a Jesus freak or a Flying Spaghetti Monster Follower.  I’ve decided it really doesn’t matter any more what anyone believes, what they think or what they do.  Go ahead and excommunicate me, I don’t care.  And I’m going to go into life and take what I want, and I don’t care what happens to anyone else but me.  I want the best and I’m just going to take it when I can.

Don’t get in my way.  I’m going to be just as selfish as everyone else.  If it’s rightfully mine don’t try to take it from me or be prepared for consequences.  If it isn’t mine and I need or want it, I’m taking it.  No more loving, meek, submissiveness, no more grace under pressure, no more strength under control or restraint, no more letting other people walk all over me. Don’t ever ask me for help either.  What’s mine is mine and what’s yours, well, just watch your back because I haven’t got it for you.

Today is a day of freedom and celebration.  The shackles of life are nothing.  The burden of obedience to a set of rules is nothing.  The burden of caring about anyone else is nothing.  From now on I ignore the bad news in the newspapers and on TV, the believers in whatever religion they choose, the books that for some reason people think are holy, and all the gods people worship.  Is one idol, or ideology, superior to any other idol?  You decide, or don’t decide.  Your eternity is your eternity as mine is mine.  Or perhaps there isn’t any such thing.

I’m writing a new “holy” book if you want to call it that, a wealth of wisdom about nothing.  Doing nothing.  Caring about nothing.  Thinking nothing.  Believing nothing.  And I’d better get writing quick, because it’s already April 1.

Camus Here Camus There, Camus-Camus’ Everywhere March 23, 2015

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I did not remember this quote by Camus but it’s so true. And sometimes I don’t have enough energy to carry it off, so people will either deal with it or decide to walk away. And that’s OK too.

Saint Patrick’s Day Muse: When Red Messes Up the Green, White, and Orange March 17, 2015

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Today is Saint Patrick’s Day.  It’s the day when people wear green, drink awful green food-coloring beer, and eat green eggs and ham and other green things.  In America, it is, anyway.  And it used to be a day when if you didn’t wear green, the other schoolkids would pinch you.

I’m not wearing green today.  Not a stitch.  I will probably have no green beverages, unless it’s lemon-lime Kool-Aid.  My wife will no doubt see to that one.  I hope there are green beans, and not green eggs and ham, on the table.  Well, at least I hope the ham isn’t green.  I like food coloring in Kool-Aid and cake frosting.  That’s about it. I didn’t even bring Key Lime yogurt today, although that’s a nice thought.  OK, some food coloring is ok with me in my yogurt too, just don’t overdo it.  There are food manufacturers who use thousands of tiny bugs shells and eggs to make food red.  I don’t mind, but tell me I’m eating a bug, don’t hide it.  Generally, if I want a bug I’ll buy it, dry-roasted and covered in chocolate or garlic salt or something, and I’ll eat it.  Trust me.  I’ve had crickets, and even worms.  They were weird.  I did not eat the mealworms.  Ugh.  I wonder what they use to make stuff green, when there’s an abundance of plant material that could be used for both reds AND greens.  Like for instance, strawberries, those are actually red.  I bet there’s a natural way to make beer green, using plants and not animals or “mystery carcinogenic green dye substance # 1138” or “soylent green.”

I wonder if they did the traditional, annual “Pollute the Chicago River” in Chicago, this year, and “Pollute the White River,” in Indianapolis, and “Pollute the City Waterway” in whatever other city they used to do that in that I wasn’t aware of.    It’s OK, add a little bleach and the water looks crystal clear again.  You worry that bleach is poisonous?  That’s actually just a vicious rumor.  It’s only toxic from overexposure, concentration, or in incorrect combination with other compounds, and we would think that a normal American would read the label and follow instructions about things like that..  But we meant to say, add a little “Water Clarifier Compound 2999.”  It’s natural.  We chlorinate our water in almost every city, and some bleach is made of chlorine.  Unless your water filter gets that, you’re probably drinking it now.

I didn’t set out to write about food coloring although that’s a very interesting thing to read up on.  I recommend it after you decide I’m never going to get to the point, and you quit reading my blog.  But I do have a point.

Saint Patrick’s day is a celebration steeped in Irish history.  The legends aside, Saint Patrick is credited with bringing the Bible, and the Christian faith, to Ireland.  So is Sir William of Orange.  Little did they know, while doing the Lord’s work of evangelizing, that Saint Patrick would become a Catholic Icon and Sir William would become a Protestant one.  But they did, and then the factions of Christianity began a history of conflicts that were more about power and money than any religious pursuit.  If you in America were ever pinched as a child for not wearing your green, that’s a Catholic persecuting you for looking like a Protestant.  Or an idiot bullying you for not conforming.  How far we’ve come from Jesus.  Or even Paul and Peter and Apollos.

I don’t know whether William or Patrick would have gotten along.  In Ireland the factions became so …factious, that they fought each other, shot at each other, or blew each other up with explosives.  If I have learned my history and if my vexillology research has paid off, The flag represents history and is a prayer for the country, really.  Vexillology?  Don’t vex me; look it up for yourself.  Green, for Catholicism, which came first, on the left. White in the middle.  Orange for Protestantism which came later.  What’s the white for?  It’s a prayer for peace between the factions of Christianity, who have to coexist or die trying, on their little island paradise.

What I love about America is we’re supposed to be free to practice whatever religion we want, as long as what we do in its’ practice is legal.  Or we can decide religion is irrelevant.  It’s fine.  We can speak our mind as long as we’re not bullying or threatening another person.  I would like there to be a lot less red dye in my food.  I would also like there to be no more red, for bloodshed, in the name of religion, or whatever you want to call the belief system that motivates you.  No more beheadings from the Islamic State.  No more beheadings at all, for any reason.  No more kidnapping and torture and rape, Boko Haram.  No more buying and selling of human beings, anyone.  Other people are not livestock, they’re people, just like you, equal to you.  No more persecution of Jewish people, Neo-Nazis (or anyone else).  I live in America and Israel is supposed to be our ally, for heaven’s sake.  And we’re supposed to get along with the rest of America’s citizens.  No more bashing people for being normal humans, Christ-followers.  You may have discovered something that helps you avoid, and find absolution for, what you now consider to be a “sin,” but normal people don’t have that until you teach them.

If you’re supposed to love, your hatred of people only shows that you have failed.  If you’re supposed to follow a peaceful religion and you’re murdering people because you have some misguided belief, it doesn’t make you a hero, it makes you a murderer.  If your beliefs are based on hatred of a person just because they exist, I’m sorry to inform you that you’re a failure as a human.  Please, let’s have no more bloodshed or criminal activity or oppression in the name of any religion. You can call it your religious practice, but I know it’s just cruelty and power-mongering at the least, and criminal at worst, and there’s nothing religious about it. I know tolerance is supposed to be the new “in” virtue, but I have zero tolerance for any of that.

If you want one, today’s the day:  have a green beer.  Or a plain one.  Or mix it up.  While you’re at it, buy one for the guy who symbolically represents the other color on the flag.  You may think you’re on the right side.  You may think the person on the other side is on the “wrong side.”  But please, respect the white stripe, don’t stain it or spoil it for the rest of us.  If you want a red one, just have a Jamaican beer instead.  And again, buy one for your neighbor.  Make friends.  If you can’t get along and you must stir trouble, please just go home and stay there until you learn how to cooperate with the rest of civilized society.

I would rather have a celebration than fight someone.  It’s Saint Patrick’s Day!  Yet another excuse to have a party.
You don’t have to be Irish, or Catholic, or Protestant, to learn or celebrate the meaning of the white stripe.  I think we should all strive to live out the hope of the symbolism of that flag.  See the white stripe in the middle?  The other two colors are supposed to represent you and whoever else you meet.  Live the white stripe:

Practice peace.

~ MoeJoe

The Truth in Love: A Dangerous Thing March 10, 2015

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I wouldn’t have thought this was a really drastic change of position if I hadn’t lived through it.  Swept along by a wave of peers, I missed something.  In large part I agreed with them.  And in part, I was dead wrong for it.  These peers? Well meaning Christ-Followers.  I’ve been processing this still, so if I’m repeating myself, just move along to the next blog you like.  My feelings won’t be hurt, I promise.

I’ve been accused of thinking dangerously, or maybe that my thinking is dangerous, or maybe they weren’t thinking and they thought the fact that I was, was dangerous.  My fellow seminarians joked good-naturedly that they would pray for me even back before I got here.  Some of them would be spinning in their pulpits if they knew what I think now.  Farbeit from me to think I’m special, revolutionary, radical.  I’m no trail-blazer, like a Martin Luther.  I don’t think I could even come up with 95 theses, but I have one:  “the truth in love.”  I’m captivated by the power of the phrase, from Ephesians 4:  15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

What if God’s love is more radical than even Christ-followers give it credit for being?  If we really understood it better, and embraced it more fully, I’ll bet we would reap a few benefits.  I’m only going to share two I believe are available.

Benefit # 1:  We grow and become like Jesus.  This makes us different from a lot of people in the world, and that might just make us dangerous.

I Corinthians 13 extols the virtues of love, and proclaims, “…if I don’t have love, I have nothing.”  “I am a sounding brass, a tinkling cymbal.”  (I used the loudest-sounding translation)  For years I thought nothing of my fellow Christ-followers proclaiming the evil of sin, the final destination of unrepentant sinners.  I saw nothing wrong.  But their focus seemed to change.  I think it became too narrow.  I think it became unloving.  We went back to Jewish legalism, for people who aren’t Jewish, for people who don’t even follow Christ yet, expecting them to live by some hand-picked set of standards out of that Old Testament law code.  Sinners who are well-aware that they are sinners are rightly calling us onto the carpet for it.  It’s not loving.  It’s not gracious.  It’s not Jesus’ method.  And we don’t even live by the letter of the law we’re offering the world.  Well-meaning Christ-followers are blindly falling into it.  It’s wrong.  It’s sin, and some are still ignorant of it, or worse, in denial about it.

I hope you can stay with me, this is going somewhere dramatic.  Trust me.  This is what I’ve been meditating on:

Some Christ-followers are operating under the misconception that sin is a choice.  This has never been true.  The question that came to my mind was, “What is a sinner going to do?”  And obviously, the answer is, “we’re going to sin.” I said “we.”  It’s a radical challenge to what I have heard a lot of well-meaning people trying to teach recently, as if it were the truth. And it’s a drastic change to my prior thought process as well.

Here’s the revelation, if I dare call it that:

Hatred quenches the Spirit of God.  Hatred stops any good from coming out of your part of a situation, no matter how well-intentioned you are.  Your hatred isn’t going to change a single sinner into a not-sinner.  You can tell the truth, without love, and your true words won’t change a single sinner into a not-sinner.  Sometimes the truth alone can quench the Spirit too.  You can love, tolerating and embracing and accepting, and your love won’t change a single sinner into a not-sinner.  Sometimes just expressing love quenches the Spirit as well.  A balance of both is required.  Jesus was “the way, the truth, and the life,” but he was also very loving, which is why the people flocked to him.  Nobody but the mob is flocking to certain churches, because they don’t really “love.” They just “truth.”  And sinners who feel affirmed are flocking to churches that embrace the sin as well as the sinner –  flocking to a place where they can hear what they want to hear, nothing uncomfortable, nothing that demands “Go and sin no more,” but that’s equally wrong.  They just “love,” they don’t really “truth.”  As a Christ follower, my message is empty if I deny the sin, just as empty if I embrace and accept the sin along with the sinner.  As much as I want to teach about your sin, or their sin, I feel compelled to confess first, I’ve got a plank in my eye too.  Christ commands anyone who would follow to first repent, or turn away, from sin, and then take up their own cross and follow Him.  I have a hard time with both of these commands.

In Psalm 51:5, the writer says he was conceived in sin, and born into sin.  In Ecclesiastes 7:20 the writer proclaims “there is not a righteous man on earth, who does what is right and never sins.”  Isaiah 53:6 the writer says we’re “like sheep” and we all want to go our own way, but we’re being led the wrong direction by our selfish motives.  In Jeremiah 17:9-10 the writer says we are all crooked, “desperately wicked,” and ultimately God “rewards” us for what we do.  The story doesn’t change from Old to New Testaments.  Romans 3:23 says we’ve all sinned and none of us can even dream of reaching God’s perfect standard, His “glory.”  So we’re all sinners.  From the first time when you’re a baby and mom says “no,” and you do it anyway, or try to do it anyway, it’s sin.  But if we’re going to live by the letter of the law we should be aware of II Corinthians 3:6- the letter of the law brings death, but the spirit (intention) of the law brings life.  The letter of the law, a slavish obedience to an impossible law code, or disobeying the perfect standards of God, only bring us to eternal death.  The spirit of the law, as distilled by Jesus into just two neat commandments, gives life like in John 10:10 and John 14:6.

Guess what?  Nothing can change a sinner into a not-sinner.  We can only resist, with the power that we have inside ourselves, and that’s only if we know something is a sin and we decide we don’t want to do it any more.  It’s more blinding, more powerful, more seductive than alcohol or tobacco or any other drug.  In the flesh, we are all going to fail, and stumble into sin, even the best Christ-followers.  It’s true that we have a choice, but the choice isn’t whether we’re going to sin.  It’s what kind of sin are we going to choose?   Some well-meaning Christ-followers think sin is a choice, but it’s not.  If you believe the Bible, you should believe that we are all born into sin and we have no power to escape without the grace of God.  And some well-meaning Christ followers preach judgement and condemnation and hellfire and brimstone on certain people’s sins, while ignoring others.  Especially their own.  The only way to escape is through the truth in love, which allows the Holy Spirit of God to work on our hearts.

The pharisees used to do that back in Jesus day.  They held people to that impossible standard of behavior, “the truth,” while at the same time treating others without any regard to mercy, or “love,” which was why Jesus was so upset.  He quoted the Old Testament, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”  And he specifically told the pharisees, I paraphrase: “On the outside you look great, all freshly whitewashed, just like a tomb.  But on the inside you’re ugly, full of evil things, corruption and rot.”  (Matthew 23:27)  Those pharisees were ignoring their own sins of hatred and pride, while pointing out other people’s specific sins with all kinds of judgement and condemnation.  Sound familiar?

The more I consider it, the less I think of myself, because personally, I am good at the above, because I suck at love, but I know all about truth.  I can hate all day long, and I can use the truth to defend my stronghold and crush the opposition with words, thrown like stones.  I can judge and condemn, just like everyone else.  It’s easy.  I can get all caught up in my fancy proofs of whatever the thing is that I don’t like, either because it’s not my choice of sin, or because no one knows I’m another definition of “sinner.”  There are plenty of sins to habituate.  I’ve picked mine, you’ve picked yours, they’ve picked theirs and we all point fingers at each other.  I have an audience.  They think I’m so good because of the whitewashed outside.  And from there, the mob mentality is too easy to just join in, grab the big rocks along with everyone else, and start flinging.  Don’t deceive yourself into thinking you should follow me.  I do it wrong, in my own way, all the time.

That woman “caught in the very act of adultery” was a test case for Jesus.  He let the accusers think on their own hearts and decide if they were sinners themselves.  And he said, after they all left, “where are your accusers?  I don’t condemn you either, but go and sin no more.”  She was about to be stoned to death for her “sin.”  Jesus dismissed the mob though, and then quietly talked with her about her choices.  And Jesus said it was “sin.”  It was the sin of adultery, big enough it made God’s top ten list back in Exodus.  What’s “adultery?”  Any kind of sexual relations outside of “marriage.” And what did Jesus say was “marriage?”  Matthew 19:5 and Mark 10:7 have Jesus quoting Genesis 2:24, validating the text like it’s his own personal stamp of approval. “Marriage,” sorry to say, as defined by God and verified by Jesus, consists of a man and his wife, nothing else.  Anything else is “adultery.”  So I’m not discounting what she did, or what anyone else, including me, does, that God says is wrong, as if that wasn’t sin.  I’m saying we should teach things differently.  We have to dismiss ourselves from the mob mentality, drop our rocks, consider our own thing that we do that’s wrong, and turn away.  I think we lead by example, and who wants to follow a rabid mob that operates based on its’ own standards, judging harshly and without any mercy?

Jesus’ first message to everyone was that we needed to “repent,” which meant to turn away from sin, and go toward God.

I’ll still agree with the mob that sin is evil.  I still agree with the mob that unrepentant sinners go to eternal torment and hopeless separation from God.  But I think we need to shift our message to something different.  Let’s understand, before we preach against one form of sin or another, that we all sin.  That’s the truth, and it makes us more gracious.  It puts the speaker on the same level as the audience.  No denial here:  there is such a thing as “sin.”  Anyone who reads Romans 3:23 will tell you that, and it hasn’t changed from Old Testament Jeremiah 17:9 to Romans 3:23.  The heart is crooked, no one can fix it for themselves.  Only when we get to Romans 6:23 do we realize there’s any hope.  It’s the gift of God, further clarified in Ephesians 2.  We should be teaching that, instead of just the condemnation, the straining of gnats of other people’s small misdeeds, while we pass the camel of our huge self-righteous judgmental hatred.

Romans 9 is quite clear:  Israel’s standards are out of date after Jesus’ sacrifice.  The law isn’t going to save anyone, it’s only going to convict us.  Once we decide to follow Jesus, we can look into what’s important.  I for one don’t want to go back to Israel’s standards.  They had over 600 rules to obey, from clothes to food to how and when to party.  Do I really want to invest the time to figure out how to do, or not do, all of that?  Might be fun to figure out the party schedule.  But I don’t relish the idea of trying to do all the rest.  But until we decide to follow Jesus, there’s no point.  There’s good news from Romans 10:4-13.  Once and for all Jesus paid the price for my past, present, and future sin.  And if I want to follow the teaching of Romans 10:14-15, I should be an ambassador teaching that forgiveness is available through Jesus’ sacrifice.  Not only forgiveness for yesterday, but also the strength to repent, and choose not to sin, for today.  I’m so happy that forgiveness is available, even for a failure like me.  I mess it up every day.  That whitewash I show on the outside is a whitewash.  Ignore it.  It’s nothing.

All you church people, let me challenge you first, like I did myself:  Love first.  Then speak the truth in love.  Don’t leave out either part.  If you do, the audience will miss out.

If I’m nothing without love, I’m nothing without the truth as well.  But with the truth in love, expressed with grace, I bet I’ll see Benefit # 2:  “The power of God  that leads to Salvation” that Paul wrote about in Romans 1:16.  Even he put the love first, before he started talking about what was sin and what to do about it.  And after I decide to follow Jesus, Jesus boils it down to a really simple standard without all the nit-picky laws:  Love God wholeheartedly, and love others as I love myself.  I don’t think you can go wrong with those two rules.  I think if we really followed them, we might see other people deciding to follow Jesus, too.  And we all have to figure out how to love God on our own, although we can encourage each other.  That’s why there’s a church and you should go.  Yes, it’s full of us hypocrites- we’ve all stumbled at some point, on the journey of life, while attempting to follow Jesus.  Me included.  But if you come and encourage us, we all might become better Christ-followers.  A good church is welcoming (love) and challenging (truth).  Maybe you think the church isn’t welcoming.  Maybe your church isn’t challenging.  Maybe you aren’t going to a church at all.  I invite you: come and see.  If the first one isn’t welcoming and challenging, maybe the next one will be.  I hope you find a good one.

II Corinthians 5:

11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin (Jesus Christ) to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Vanity February 25, 2015

Posted by michaelnjohns in Uncategorized.
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Vanity had a reason to be vain.  Also Known As Denise Matthews, she was a singer, an actress, a model, until she turned her back on her identity and reinvented herself.  Or rather, I think she would say she allowed herself to be reinvented. Back in the day, I really admired her character, and perhaps I did a little more than admire.  I thought she was the sweetest thing in the movie “The Last Dragon,” though.

She survived drug abuse and a near-death experience, she says, through the grace of God answering her prayer.  Whatever motivates a positive, lasting change is a good thing, I say.  Whatever motivates a positive, temporary change is a New Years’ Resolution.  And she’s started preaching about Jesus.  I’m not acquainted with the specifics of her message about Jesus, but I mean to check it out.

Is there hope for me to change?  But wait.  I don’t really have a reason for any personal vanity. So maybe I don’t need to change.  Except the flaws.  And the stuff I do that’s “wrong.”  Remember “How to Train Your Dragon?”  (I am on a Dragon Roll today, aren’t I?  Hmm.  Dragon Roll sounds like a great name for a Chinese restaurant.)  I picture Stoic the Vast here.  Hiccup, his son, isn’t the robust, overly muscular Viking hero who would inherit leadership of the tribe.  And his father has obviously let Hiccup in on his feelings:

Hiccup: He never listens!
Gobber: Well, it runs in the family.
Hiccup: And when he does, it’s always with this… disappointed scowl, like someone skimped on the meat in his sandwich.[imitating Stoick The Vast:]
Hiccup: “Excuse me, barmaid! I’m afraid you brought me the wrong offspring! I ordered an extra-large boy with beefy arms, extra guts and glory on the side. This here, this is a talking fish-bone!”
Gobber: Now, you’re thinkin’ about this all wrong. It’s not so much what you *look* like, it’s what’s *inside* that he can’t stand.
Hiccup: [sarcastic] Thank you for summing that up.

And his dad isn’t really any more merciful when interacting with his son:

Stoick: This is *serious*, son. When you carry this axe, you carry all of us with you. Which means, you walk like us, you talk like us, and you think like us. No more of… this! [gestures to all of Hiccup]
Hiccup: [miffed] You just gestured to *all* of me.
Stoick: Deal?
Hiccup: This conversation is feeling very one-sided…
Stoick: *Deal*?

Somehow it’s easy for me to picture God as being like Stoick, and Gobber as a kind of devil’s advocate for God, sort of agreeing with my flaws, as perceived by God.  Hiccup and I have no choice but to accept the one-sided” deal, no more of… this!”  And “this,” unfortunately, is all of me.

If I’m flawed, is there really any hope for me to improve?  I mean, “I was born this way,” as the Lady Gaga song famously brags, even if I’m not “on the right track, baby.”  We live in an era that preaches self-acceptance, proclaims things that used to be perceived as “wrong” as now supposedly socially acceptable.  But are they?  What if there really is a Divine Design, and I’m not living up to the expectation of the Designer?  What if doing it my way, because it’s easy, because it feels good, because I want to, is doing it the wrong way?  Would I be better if I did it the way the Designer intended?

Miss Matthews, if she’s a follower of Jesus now, is teaching something she thinks Jesus taught.  If I read it right, Jesus said there is such a thing as “sin,” although not explicitly, in his first sermons in Matthew chapters 3 and 4.  He says “repent,” which I have been told means “turn around.”  He tells that lady “caught in the very act of adultery” (eww?) that he doesn’t condemn her, but that she should “go and sin no more.”  And Jesus also told people he’s not abolishing the law, but he’s doing what it says.  The whole rest of the Bible talks about being under a new thing called Grace, where we are supposed to still work it out and help people who are seeking their way through it.

There were hundreds of little picayune laws in the Old Testament.  More than 500.  And then there were special provisos, legal things people were supposed to do to make things right.  Who can keep track of all that except lawyers and cops?  Not me.  I need it simple.

The most important commandments, Jesus boiled down to two, from the top ten list:  From the first 4, Love God.  From the last 6, Love Others.  But if we love God we should do what he wants, live according to His design, first, and then, after we get it right with God, we can finally get it right with others.   I’m still working out how to get that first part right, so sorry, I probably offend you but I can’t deal with that right now.  I’m busy with my own issues, so you’ll just have to forgive me.  Or not.  “I can’t make you love me if you don’t,” says Bonnie Raitt’s song by Reid and Shamblin.

The Jesus in the Bible only tells me to turn away from my behavior choices, and the rest suggests fixing “…this” is up to Him, and He’ll do it for me, as long as I’m seeking Him, from the inside out.  Alas for you, MY transformation is taking a LONG time.  At this rate I’ll get it right 30 years after I’m dead, so if you’re the forgiving sort just keep forgiving, and if you’re not, well, that’s kind of tough.

One of the funniest things in the Bible is Jesus talking about the guy who wants to help his friend with the speck in his eye.  It’s bugging the guy who wants to help more than it’s bugging the friend.  And the really funny part of the story is, the one who wants to help his friend has a blinding huge 2×4 in his eye, so how can he even see to help his friend with the little speck?  (Matthew 7)  I don’t like everything I read, but that is funny.

I think Jesus had a sense of humor about life, if this story may serve as an example, and I’m pretty sure he understood humans.  I just wish I understood Him better.  If I did, maybe I’d understand myself better.  And maybe I’d understand all you crazy people. May God help me, I just don’t.  My dad stole from an old movie I don’t remember, and the movie probably stole from Robert Owen, and Robert Owen probably stole from someone else, but the quote goes, “All the world’s pixielated, save thee and me, and oft times I worry about thee.”  I’ll just up and say it.  You probably think I’m nuts.  But you all really are.  That doesn’t stop me from liking your brand of crazy, though.  I really do.

There’s a life changing experience in the story of Miss Matthews.  It’s impressive, if it’s real.

Hiccup couldn’t get his dad to understand him, so he turned to someone else to have a sounding board, to share his heartfelt feelings, and that person was Gobber.  Unfortunate.  Gobber was one of Stoick’s friends, and he reflected Stoick’s impression of Hiccup, but perhaps with a bit more hope that Hiccup would actually change and grow into the image Stoick wanted him to.  Hiccup’s mentor reminds me of a guilty conscience, pointing to someone’s perception of the truth.  Gobber says, “Now, you’re thinkin’ about this all wrong. It’s not so much what you *look* like, it’s what’s *inside* that he can’t stand.”  Or maybe he’s right, and that’s how God looks at us.  It’s not the outside stuff, our look, that God doesn’t like, it’s what’s on the inside that he can’t stand.  Jesus famously called the Pharisees in Matthew 23 “whitewashed tombs full of dead man’s bones.”  It means they looked great on the outside, but on the inside they were putrid, beyond sickeningly gross.

Is there hope for me?  I doubt it.  But if Miss Matthews can turn around, maybe there’s hope for me after all.

Is there hope for you?  I doubt it.  But hey, prove me wrong!  After all, I’m the guy with the 2×4 in my eye.